When you imagine Jesus, what does Jesus look like, what does he act like? (Let Congregation answer) I often imagine this well spoken man, a brave man, not the poorest of the poor but not wealthy. I tend to imagine Jesus very much being like me. I imagine him as the ultimate comforter and these passages of the Good Shepherd help to reinforce that. However, as I read about these passages today I have learned that perhaps those images of Christ are not accurate. Often when Jesus preached, he did so to make people uncomfortable, to shake things up.
In life I have always said, “First impressions matter”. For many people, if someone does not make a good impression, then that is it they are not allowed into their circle of friends and family. I often rely on my instinct on people but I realize that at times my instinct has been wrong. I have made poor decisions on judging people. Because of that I have missed out on knowing some wonderful people and at other times I have let people into my life that have been incredibly disruptive and harmful. First impressions matter but they are not to be relied upon entirely. Christ taught something different. He taught us to look beyond the exterior and to seek out all that unites us as children of God. He taught us to look beyond what our society finds acceptable to see God’s call for that person in our lives and in the flock.
When Jesus preached about the sheep he was at a public feast of tabernacles. He was at the temple surrounded by highly educated individuals. He was surrounded by the wealthiest and highest of society. What he preached that day was not meant to bring them comfort. But to remind the people that God was not this elitist individual. God was the God of all peoples, no matter their station in life. This is why Christ compared himself and thus God to a lowly shepherd.
A shepherd was likely uneducated and unacquainted with polite society. They spent more time in the hills with the sheep than they did with people. They would not have worn the nicest clothes; their speech would have been coarse and probably much more direct; they would not have bathed as often as others; and they certainly would not have been considered equals with the elite when it came to God. Shepherds probably would not have made a good first impression in the presence of elite and genteel society.
A shepherd’s job was hard. They ate, breathed, and slept with their flocks. They trained their sheep to recognize and respond to their unique calls. They carried a staff to guide the sheep, but also to protect their sheep from wolves, bandits, and thieves. They risked everything for the animals that dictated much of their lives. They worried about finding good pasture and a good source of water. They cared only for the needs of the sheep and they passed this knowledge on from generation to generation. A good shepherd sees their flock as important enough to risk even their own lives for. This is the type of relationship Jesus referred to when he taught today’s lesson. This is the lesson that we are get when we hear the 23rd Psalm.
Our God is a God who is that dedicated to us and our welfare. We are all that important to him. God, as the Good Shepherd, protects his sheep, us, from all that threatens us. We can trust in the love of the Shepherd. We can place all of our needs in the hands the shepherd who seeks to care for all his sheep, all his people united together in one flock.
Jesus takes this image further. He encourages people to open their minds to the inclusiveness of such a flock. He speaks not just about Jews but about how God had expanded his flock to include all those who sought him out. He was expanding the message to include those who have traditionally been called outsiders and different. Jesus challenged people to stop viewing one another as other but rather as one family, one flock united in God’s love and protection, one flock dependent upon one another. Reinhold Niebuhr, a 20th century theologian wrote, “Nothing we can do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love”.
By love we are called together into the care of God. By love we are called to embrace one another, imperfections and all. By love we all work towards learning to place our trust in God and to recognize his voice when he calls out to us. By love God asks us to place aside societal judgments to see God’s compassion, God’s presence in all. By love we are called to welcome all people who long to know God, to feel connected, to have guidance to those green pastures and still waters of life. Remember what Christ said in the scriptures this morning, “And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd”. We are called to lovingly reach out to one another, to seek God within each person and to see God’s flock in the world and to know that together as one flock we can change the world, we can make a difference, we can do great things. Our challenge is to remember that though we have differences between one another, though there are people that perhaps rub us the wrong way, that we are united together by the love of God and so we should act first out of care, compassion, and love setting aside our sometimes errant judgments and very human ways of grasping to all that does not build life. Our challenge is to let go of our needs to judge others and to embrace God’s love in such a way that it transforms our lives and the lives of others.
 Reinhold Niebuhr, 20th century theologian.
 John 10: 16, RSV.
(Based on Psalm 23 and John 10: 11-18)